Steinski at Darkroom 2/26 | Bleader

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Steinski at Darkroom 2/26

Posted By on 02.26.09 at 12:36 PM

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People who attended the much-blogged-about Chicago Journalism Town Hall (still working on my post), as well as people who are interested in the history of DJing, will be interested to know that legendary DJ and producer William Stein, aka Steinski, is spinning at Darkroom tonight at 9 pm.

In 1983, Steinski was a 32-year-old ad man--significantly--and hip-hop nerd who, along with his friend Doug DiFranco, won a Tommy Boy promotional contest judged by Afrika Bambaataa and other notables. Their winning entry, "Lesson One - The Payoff Mix," a remix of "Play That Beat, Mr. D.J." by G.L.O.B.E. and Whiz Kid, was too weird to be much for dancing but found an audience on dance radio, and subsequently became a hugely important underground hit. Important because "Lesson One" and its follow-ups (which can be downloaded here) went on to influence people like DJ Shadow, Cut Chemist (Brainfreeze and Product Placement are enormously indebted to Steinski and Double Dee's sound), DJ Spooky, the Dust Brothers, Girl Talk, and Prince Paul. Underground because its density of samples made it impossible to release commercially.

In other words, long before Girl Talk (and around the same time as Negativland) Steinski was at the center of the copyright/sampling/reappropriation debate, as Robert Christgau detailed in a great 1986 essay:

"But the law is an ass. Profit isn't the issue for Steinski, and except in a speculative way (will 'trivialization' reduce Walter Cronkite's market value?), it's not the issue for CBS either. The issue is who gets to use this stuff, and for what--whether the public has any claim on the output of public artists whose creations would mean nothing without it. In an age when all products of the mind have been commodified, the freedom to sell equals the freedom to disseminate. It means access, control. That's what's really at stake in Steinski's work.

"I wouldn't claim Steinski is any kind of rad; disarming 'postindustrial' capitalism is a sideline for him. He's just a perpetually disillusioned optimist who still assumes that the sounds and images rippling through the American consciousness are, forget copyright, every American's birthright--that we're all free to interpret and manipulate them as we choose. His disillusion, I should say, didn't begin with his recent disappointments--it goes back at least as far as JFK's assassination, and it's what activates his absurdist, quasi-parodic tone. A rad like me could even wonder whether his disillusion isn't a little corny, but--especially but not exclusively when it's turned around by Double Dee's freewheeling natural optimism as well as Steinski's own--it's clearly too much for the information barons."

Christgau isn't just reading between the lines: as is clear from his interview with Jon Nelson of Some Assembly Required (the track that kicks it off, "It's Up To You," is my favorite Steinski work) and his sampling lesson with NPR, he's in it for the lulz and the beats as much as the art and he's somewhat ambivalent about copyright issues--which, as with Girl Talk, makes the issue even thornier.

Related: I can't think of Steinski without thinking of one of my favorite works of virtuoso agitprop, Aaron Valdez's "Big Screen Version."

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